Cuddy knew well that physical actions can have real effects on our emotions. One classic study showed that when people held smiles on their faces, they actually started to feel happier (giving new meaning to “fake it till you make it”). As a result, she wondered: Could holding power postures actually increase testosterone levels and lower cortisol?
Cuddy and her fellow researchers divided a group of 42 participants into a high-power posture group and a low-power posture group. The participants gave saliva samples to measure their base levels of testosterone and cortisol; then, the groups were manipulated into different postures.
The high-power group spent one minute with their feet up on a desk with their hands behind their heads, and then another minute standing and resting their hands on the desk. The low-power group sat for a minute in chairs with their arms held close together and hands folded, and then a minute standing with arms and legs crossed.
After these poses were done, both groups of participants were given $2 and asked to roll a die for a 50/50 chance to double their $2 to $4. Additionally, they gave a second round of saliva samples to test changes in their hormone levels.
86% of the high-power group decided to roll the die as opposed to 60% of the low-power group (increased risk tolerance is a sign of power and confidence). And more importantly, the high-power poses increased testosterone by 19% for both men and women and decreased cortisol by 25%, while the low-power poses decreased testosterone by 10% and increased cortisol by 17%.
Cuddy’s intuition was correct. The simple act of holding a power posture could actually make a person more confident, calmer and in control.
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